Nigerian forces retake Baga from Boko Haram
22 February 2015, 16:00
Bauchi - Nigerian forces backed by air strikes seized the
north-eastern border town of Baga from Islamist group Boko Haram on Saturday, the
military said, a significant victory in an offensive against an insurgency
affecting four African states.
"We have secured Baga. We are now in full control.
There are only mopping up exercises left to do," Defence spokesperson
Major-General Chris Olukolade said by telephone.
In a statement minutes earlier Olukolade said that "a
large number of terrorists had drowned in Lake Chad" as troops advanced on
Baga is at Nigeria's border with Chad, Niger and Cameroon
and it was the headquarters of a multinational force comprising troops from all
four countries. Its recapture was an important victory, one of several in the
past two weeks.
Lake Chad fighting
Boko Haram fighters in many parts of Nigeria and the region
appear to be on the run, after being subjected to a major military offensive on
all sides, although Boko Haram have seemed defeated in the past only to bounce
back deadlier than ever.
"Not even the strategy of mining over 1 500 spots with
landmines on the routes leading to the town could save the terrorists from the
aggressive move of advancing troops," Olukolade had earlier said in a
Successes in pushing back Boko Haram would come at a welcome
time for Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces an election on 28 March
that was delayed by six weeks on the grounds that more time was needed to fight
The poll, however, also provides a strong motive for the
government and military to talk up successes.
Boko Haram claimed a 3 January attack on the town of Baga
that killed scores, possibly hundreds, of civilians and left the jihadists in
control of it.
The Sunni Islamist group, which has killed thousands of
people and kidnapped hundreds in a six-year insurgency, had gained strength in
the past year, carving a territory the size of Belgium and intensifying
To counter that border threat, Nigeria's neighbours, where
Boko Haram used to flee after carrying out hit and run attacks, are pursuing a
strategy of pushing them back into Nigeria.
At least 23 people were killed in fighting between Boko
Haram militants and the Niger army over the island of Karamga, on the Niger
side of Lake Chad.
Retreating Boko Haram forces are often extremely dangerous
to a defenceless civilian population. Boko Haram militants fleeing an offensive
in the Sambisa forest killed 21 people on Friday in attacks near Chibok, close
to where the rebels abducted more than 200 schoolgirls last year.
Military chiefs will meet in Chad's capital N'Djamena next
week to finalise plans for an 8 700-strong task-force of troops from the four
countries plus Benin.
A spokesperson for Chad's army said his troops did not
participate in the Baga offensive. Nigerien and Cameroonian militaries were not
immediately available for comment.